updated 1/24/2006 8:31:43 PM ET 2006-01-25T01:31:43

International Business Machines Corp. was sued in federal court Tuesday for allegedly not paying overtime to tens of thousands of rank-and-file employees.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court on behalf of three current and former workers, and seeks class-action status to represent computer installers and maintenance workers for IBM throughout the United States.

“They were forced to work overtime without being paid in a manner that is required by the state and federal laws,” attorney James Finberg said.

Lawyers said they are seeking millions of dollars in back pay for employees of the world’s biggest technology services provider based in Armonk, N.Y. They are also considering punitive damages.

Experts speculated that the practice of not paying overtime to workers who deserve it was widespread in the technology industry.

“In the last couple of years, there has definitely been an increase in the number of wage-and-hour actions brought on behalf of computer related employees,” said Oakland attorney Jeff Ross, who is representing 840 engineers working for applications software maker Siebold Systems Inc. in a pending overtime class action.

Employees allege they were forced to work more than 40 hours a week, and were called in on weekends without getting overtime pay.

Generally, executives, manager and high-level computer operators are exempt from being paid overtime premiums, which is compensated at 90 minutes pay for each additional hour of work.

The suit seeks compensation for the past four years for affected current and former IBM workers in California, and three years back pay for those in other states. The IBM employees usually worked at an IBM clients’ workplace, attorneys said.

John Bukovinsky, an IBM spokesman, said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

Lawyers who filed the suit settled a similar case against Computer Sciences Corp. for $24 million. Video game publisher Electronic Arts Inc. also agreed last year to pay $15.6 million to settle a class-action lawsuit by computer graphic artists who sought overtime compensation.

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